What you need to know about anesthesia

Anesthesia is a medicine that causes a loss of feeling in all or part of your body. It comes in different types. The best type of anesthesia for you depends on:

  • The type of surgery you are having
  • Your health
  • What your surgeon needs to do his or her work
  • What you want

Types of anesthesia

General anesthesia

This type of anesthesia puts you in a deep sleep. It is not like the normal sleep you have at night. You get the medicine by breathing it in or through a vein. You will not feel anything with this kind of anesthesia.

Local anesthesia

This type of anesthesia numbs just the part of your body where you are having surgery. So, if you are having surgery on your thumb, it only numbs your thumb. You will be awake during surgery. You may also be given other medicines to make you feel relaxed or sleepy (sedation).


Sedation is medicine that makes you relaxed or sleepy. It is often given through a vein. Many people can still follow instructions when sedated.

Regional anesthesia

This type of anesthesia numbs a larger part of your body. During surgery, you will not feel any pain in that area of the body. So, if you are having surgery on your thumb, regional anesthesia will numb your arm.

The three types of regional anesthesia are:

Medicine is put into your back with a needle. This stops pain and movement. The needle is taken out after the medicine is put in.
Medicine goes into your body through a small tube in your back. The tube is attached to a pump that gives you the amount of medicine you need. The tube is taken out after the medicine is no longer needed to control pain.
Nerve block
Medicine is injected near nerves to control pain during surgery. Sometimes a small tube is placed near the nerve, which is attached to a pump that gives you the amount of medicine you need. The nerve block will stop or lower your pain for a few hours after surgery.

Who will give me anesthesia?

  • A doctor called an anesthesiologist or a nurse who is a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), will be in charge of your anesthesia.
  • Someone from your health care team will stay with you while you are asleep to make sure your body is working well during and after surgery.
  • A resident doctor or student nurse may be part of your health care team. They are supervised by experienced doctors and CRNAs.

Will I need a blood transfusion?

  • Most people do not need a blood transfusion during surgery.
  • If you need blood, it will be given to you.

Will I wake up during surgery?

  • It is rare to wake up during surgery.
  • In the operating room, machines help us measure the amount of medicine you are getting and how deeply you are asleep.

What are the risks of anesthesia?

Some surgeries or diseases may put you at a higher risk for complications. Before your surgery, you will have a chance to talk about the risks with your anesthesia health care team.

Minor risks are more common. They are:

  • Feeling sick or vomiting (throwing up) after surgery
  • Having a sore throat, teeth, or lips, or trouble swallowing if you had a breathing tube
  • Feeling pain or having bruises on your arm where the IV was
  • Bruising or redness on your skin or some numbness. This can happen from the pressure of lying down during surgery. Most of the time this does not last after your hospital stay.
  • Having a backache or headache after spinal or epidural anesthesia.

Major risks are very rare. They are:

  • Drug reaction
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Lung problems
  • Bleeding
  • Blindness
  • Nerve damage or paralysis
  • Brain damage
  • Coma or death


Females from age 11 to 50 will be given a urine pregnancy test on the day of surgery. People who are pregnant will decide with the doctor whether to have the surgery or wait.

Eating and drinking before surgery

It is best to receive anesthesia when your stomach is empty. This helps prevent the small chance of vomiting during surgery. If any vomit goes into your lungs, it could cause serious problems.

People having abdominal (belly) surgery may have special eating and drinking instructions. You may eat and drink as normal up to eight hours before surgery if you are told it is okay.

Before an elective (non-emergency) surgery, unless you were told not to, you (or your child) may eat or drink:

  • Clear fluids* two hours before surgery
  • Breast milk four hours before surgery
  • Formula or non-human milk six hours before surgery
*Clear fluids are water, real, or artificial fruit juice without pulp, carbonated beverages, clear tea, infant electrolyte solutions (Pedialyte®), and black coffee with no creamer. Alcohol is not a clear fluid.

Do not drink more than:

  • 2 ounces for children up to 5 years of age
  • 4 ounces for children 5 through 13 years of age
  • 8 ounces (1 cup) for children over 13 years of age

Babies (less than one year of age) should be given clear fluids before their surgery to prevent dehydration. A baby should:

  • Stop breastfeeding about four hours before surgery.
  • Be given clear liquids (such as Pedialyte®) about two to three hours before surgery. This often means the baby will need to be woke up.

After surgery

Anesthesia medicine is stopped after your surgery. You will wake up in the recovery room. Most people stay there for one to two hours after surgery. Then you will either go to a hospital room or go home.

If you have serious health problems, you may go to an intensive care unit.

Your health care team will work with you to control your pain.


If you have any questions about your anesthesia, please call:

Our team of caring and well-trained anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists are here to give you the best care. Thank you for letting us take care of you and your family.

Last reviewed: 
May 2017

Interested in using our health content?